"... the problem lies not in the universities, but in the state-school system. Because of the failure of the "bog-standard comprehensives", to use a phrase coined by Alastair Campbell, the percentage of state-school students at Cambridge is lower than in 1980. Within the high-flying Russell Group of universities, the intake from independent schools is hugely disproportionate and, among state-school students, England's 164 surviving grammar schools are similarly over-represented.
What, then, to do? Yes, we could pack the universities with poorly performing students in the name of "fairness". Yet Britain's leading universities have evolved over centuries to world-class standards. To vandalise that national asset would be a mortal blow, leaving us hopelessly uncompetitive. Elitism is not a dirty word: it is the precondition for meritocracy. Lord Mandelson knows that; but he is playing pre-election politics.
The Government's overriding concern should not be those few institutions that are succeeding, but the many that are not. Instead, we have an education policy predicated upon the same prejudices as the Hunting Act. A future Tory government must not be inhibited by self-consciousness about its leaders' Bullingdon background. It must implement reforms that rebuild the ladder of opportunity for gifted students from poor backgrounds, and so secure Britain's place in a globalised, highly skilled and meritocratic world."
I believe that, despite the end of the Assisted Places Scheme, that independent schools will continue to have an important part to play in 'rebuilding the ladder of opportunity for gifted pupils from poor backgrounds'. The Independent Schools Council would do the sector a great service if it were to research the number of pupils from poor backgrounds at Oxford and Cambridge - and the Russell Group universities - who have been educated in independent Schools. I would not be surprised if the independent sector has given more young people from humble backgrounds the opportunity to go on to top universities than the whole of the comprehensive school system.
Click here to read the DT editorial in full